We define moral courage as the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement. When we say a person has moral courage, we speak of things like ethics, good and evil, right and wrong. This is the kind of person who does bold things. They do these things not because they are trying to make a name for themselves or impress their peers, but because it is the right thing to do.
A person with moral courage stands up in the face of adversity. There are many examples of moral courage throughout the history of our country. Certainly, we would think that Abraham Lincoln was a man of moral courage.He was the leader of our country, and took a stance on slavery that was not popular to everybody. We would say that Lincoln was an ethical man, and he knew right from wrong. His moral courage eventually united the country in a way that it never had been before. Jackie Robinson was the first African-American player in major league baseball. He too showed his moral courage on a daily basis.
In his case, it was the right time for the color barrier to be broken, and a man of Robinson’s talent and moral courage made him the right man to do it. Women face many challenges that men did not have to face.In the early days of our country, it was a man’s world. Women served their men. They were not offered the same opportunities that men were. To some extent, this still exists today. Women don’t always receive equal pay for equal work as their male co-workers. That was true in the 1840’s when Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States.
That shows amounts of moral courage that many of us could never achieve. Elizabeth Blackwell was born on Feb. 3, 1821, in Bristol, England.
She was the third of nine children born to Samuel and Hannah Blackwell.They were known to be considerate people. Samuel owned a sugar refinery business and taught all of his children to be the best they could be and to make, and take, advantage of all the opportunities in life that they could. He made sure that they all got an education so that if a chance was given to them, they could use their knowledge to be successful. This was rare for girls in that time. The few girls who did receive an education were usually sent to boarding schools, where they learned to read and write, and maybe spell, but most of their time was spent in dancing, music, painting, and needlework.
When Elizabeth was a child of eight years old, her father’s business was destroyed in a fire and soon he was unable to pay their taxes and the family was kicked out of their home. The Blackwells moved to New York City in 1832. The entire Blackwell family showed moral courage when they left their home country of England and moved to America. The journey on the ship took seven weeks and four days. About two hundred passengers began the trip, but several died when cholera broke out among the passengers.
All of the Blackwell family remained in good health, except for some seasickness.Elizabeth did not know it at the time, but this would not be her last long hard trek into the unknown. Samuel Blackwell was an outspoken opponent of slavery.
His family was part of the Anti-Slavery Society. It took a lot of courage to belong to this organization. Most of the leading citizens of New York, editors, lawyers, clergymen, and politicians, were against the movement.
Elizabeth was shaped by her father’s beliefs that no man should own another man. She saw him stand up in the face of adversity, against public opposition, for what he truly believed in.His views were unpopular to many and, eventually, for their safety, the Blackwells moved out of the city to a country home on Long Island. The only regret that Elizabeth had when her family moved away from the city was that it was too far away from the exciting, changing world of ideas and people. She went back to the city every chance she got. Eventually the Blackwells moved across the Hudson River to what is now Jersey City, New Jersey. Even though Elizabeth Blackwell was not a big girl, she was barely five feet tall, she took pride in her physical strength.This made her more than a match for her brothers and sisters.
She didn’t think sickness of any kind was a cause for pampering. She did not have the beauty or cleverness of her sisters, or even the popularity, but she had a toughness about her that none of her siblings had. But the physical strength and toughness could not make up for the many frustrations that Blackwell faced growing up.
She was always the odd one, or the one who was left out. She wrote many of her private thoughts in a journal. One time she wrote that it felt strange to be left completely out of sight.Other times she wrote that she would be punished for doing things that her brothers and sisters did, and got away with. Even though Elizabeth Blackwell was a good student, she finished her formal schooling in June of 1836, she did not shine at social gatherings like her sisters did.
She wrote in her journal that she was afraid that she would never dance gracefully, or that she was an extra spoke in the wheel. She even wrote one time that a hermit’s life was better suited for her. There was one activity that Elizabeth poured her heart and soul into much more than others.This was the anti-slavery movement.
All the older members of the family were involved as well. Anti-slavery was the one area of community life in which women were permitted full participation. Elizabeth and her sisters actively participated in meetings, attended lectures, study groups, anti-slavery powwows, and other meetings for the cause. The Blackwell family even housed a runaway slave girl for several weeks until she could get on a ship for England. These were exciting times for Elizabeth. She felt like she was doing good work for a worthy cause.
In 1838, the Blackwells moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. It took the family nine days to make the trip from New York. When Elizabeth was 17, her father died.
Since the family didn’t have much money, Elizabeth and her sister opened a boarding school for girls. One of the girls at the school was dying. She was a friend to Elizabeth, and she thought that Elizabeth had taken such good care of her while she was ill, that maybe she should look to a career in medicine.
The girl told Elizabeth that the worst part of being sick was being examined and treated by a doctor who was a man.Elizabeth was teaching at the school and did not really like teaching, but it seemed impossible to her that she could go to medical school and become a doctor. In those days, only men were doctors.
Women could be teachers, or even nurses. Elizabeth talked to her mother about what it was like to bear children and asked her mother if it would have been more comfortable if she had a competent woman doctor to attend to her during childbirth. Her mother agreed that it would have been less embarrassing to have a female doctor. Elizabeth Blackwell, at the age of 23, decided that she was going to become a doctor.She began the process by reading every medical book she could get her hands on. Since she could not get into any medical school, Blackwell received private instruction from Samuel Dickinson, as well as a few other professors and doctors at Charleston, SC Medical College. She was determined to become a doctor.
This shows large amounts of moral courage. She stood-up in the face of adversity. When the popular opposition was for her to choose a “woman’s field”, she relentlessly pushed herself. Elizabeth Blackwell had done this her entire life. She was never satisfied until she pushed herself to the highest level.
She was an independent person who wanted to do things on her own time and in her own way. This kind of desire and determination had helped Blackwell throughout her life, but even she didn’t realize that the difficult goal of becoming a doctor was going to be much more of a challenge than she ever dreamed. In all, Elizabeth Blackwell applied to 30 medical schools. She was turned down twenty-nine times.
Yale and Harvard were just two of those schools who rejected Blackwell. The reason that all these schools would reject such a qualified candidate was always the same.She was a female. The situation was so bad that Blackwell decided she would dress up as a man to be accepted into school. That school let her study anatomy, but would not allow “him” to get a degree. Even this didn’t stop the strong-willed Blackwell.
She kept applying until finally, Geneva Medical College, in New York, admitted her. The date was October 20, 1847. Elizabeth Blackwell was 26. She thought all her dreams had been answered when she was finally accepted. As it turned out, Blackwell had to show amounts of moral courage that she probably didn’t know she had.
Elizabeth Blackwell had been recommended to Geneva College by a physician in Philadelphia that she worked for. The student body of the college voted to see if Blackwell should be accepted into the medical program. Nearly all of the student body thought it was a joke, so they voted in favor of her acceptance. After she was accepted, the faculty and the students were cruel to her because she was the only woman. One instructor was upset because Blackwell wore a bonnet to class.
This was a result of her religious Quaker upbringing.It was reported that Elizabeth Blackwell’s response was that she would be pleased to remove her headgear and take a seat at the rear of the classroom, but that she would not voluntarily leave the lecture. She was even treated badly by men and women who passed her on the streets, or when she tried to rent a room near campus. Once again, she was met with a “men only policy.
” Medical school was not easy for Blackwell, but over time, she adjusted to her new surroundings. Even though she was not completely accepted by all of the students, or faculty, she did write in her journal that the lectures were very clear and superior to books.She felt that this was the best way for her to learn and the class was behaving well and the people were growing kinder. One of the more difficult times for her was in anatomy class when the subject was human reproduction. The teacher asked her to voluntarily be absent from class because of his embarrassment. This discouraged her so much that she wrote a note to the teacher telling him that she was there as a student with an earnest purpose, and she should simply be regarded as a student. She went on to say that human birth was a most sacred event and should be approached with the utmost reverence.After reading the letter, the professor addressed the class.
He said he was impressed by the good influence that she exerted on the class, and believed the noble stance she had taken in her rights as a student at the college entitled her every privilege and honor which the class could extend her. After that day, things improved some. Some students and the faculty did not agree, but Elizabeth Blackwell was becoming a force to be reckoned with. After successfully completing that first term, Blackwell returned to Philadelphia and actually practiced medicine for the first time.
The experience that she gained there would push her to the highest level when she returned to school in the fall. In fact, she was at the top of her class when she graduated from Geneva College Medical School in January 1849. She had not only earned the respect of her classmates and the faculty, but she became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. Blackwell had finally been accepted by her classmates and the faculty. They all cheered for her when she received her diploma.
Now she was on her way. Or so she thought.Elizabeth Blackwell returned to England for the first time since her family had moved from there. She visited her old home and saw many of the old friends she had not seen in years. She also met many doctors and other important people. One of the doctors told her that she should spend a year in London to help with her development as a doctor. But Elizabeth had other ideas. She was determined to go to Paris to study to become a surgeon.
When Blackwell arrived in Paris in the spring of 1849, it was the world capital of art, fashion, music, romance, philosophy, and medicine.It was also a time that disease was all around her. More than fifteen thousand people had already died from the plague. When she applied to doctors and hospitals to continue her education, she was turned down. The only place that would accept her was La Maternite’, but not as a doctor. She would become a student at the midwifery school to deliver babies. This gave Elizabeth the opportunity to be a part of a thousand births in three months, many of which were abnormal births, lectures from the most distinguished professors of obstetrics living, and a chance to constantly practice medicine.
She felt that it would be worth the sacrifice. During her training at La Maternite’, Elizabeth caught a serious eye infection from a baby she was treating. She had her eye removed and replaced with a glass eye.
She had been worried that she might go blind in both eyes, but her good eye gradually improved after the bad one had been removed. Again, Elizabeth Blackwell showed her moral courage in the face of adversity. She didn’t feel sorry for herself. She became more determined than ever to continue her quest to become a surgeon.
She moved back to London to continue her studies.Blackwell returned to New York in 1851, but hospitals still would not let her work. Male doctors ignored her and the hospitals would not let her into the wards, so she had very few patients. This led her to open a clinic in New York City, where she was joined by her sister Emily, who had followed in her sister’s footsteps and gone to medical college, and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska.
The clinic was in a small room and the majority of the patients were poor immigrants. Blackwell taught them the importance of sanitation and gave them medical advice.She did not do it for the money. She did it because she thought it was necessary. She worked there until she started the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children in 1853. All of the staff was women.
The infirmary had many tough years because they did not charge the patients who could not afford the services. Another problem was that there were patients who died and their families said that women should not be allowed to be doctors. Family members felt that women doctors were the reason that their loved ones died.
As always, Elizabeth Blackwell pushed herself to do better, despite all the negativity around her. Eventually, Elizabeth earned the respect of her colleagues. During the Civil War, Blackwell trained many women to be nurses and sent them to the Union Army. Many women received this training to be nurses. After the war was over, Elizabeth and her sister Emily opened a medical college for women. It was a high quality institution, and it remained open until 1899, when women were first allowed to enter the Cornell University Medical School. In 1869, Elizabeth returned to London and opened a practice.She was one of the founders of the National Health Society of London and the London Medical School for Women, where she was a Professor of Gynecology from 1875 to 1907.
She was a great lecturer on the subjects of social hygiene and preventive medicine. She wrote many books on health and education. In one of her favorite works, Elizabeth said, “The idea of winning a doctor’s degree gradually assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle, and the moral fight possessed immense attraction for me. ” That shows us the dedication, discipline, and moral courage that Elizabeth Blackwell ossessed.
She was always willing to fight for what she knew was right, even against popular opposition, and finally she had gained the respect of those who had not taken her seriously. In 1907, Blackwell was injured in a fall at her home, and she really never recovered. She died on May 31, 1910 at her home in England after suffering a stroke. Her legacy lived on. By 1900, there were nearly seven thousand women physicians and surgeons in the country. The medical departments of fourteen state universities and many other schools were admitting women students on the same terms as men.
Her old school Geneva had become Hobart and William Smith Colleges. They would institute an annual Elizabeth Blackwell award for “outstanding service to mankind, to commemorate the life and works of Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman of modern times to graduate in medicine. ” Elizabeth Blackwell was a trend-setter, a trailblazer, a woman of moral courage. She will always be remembered as the first woman to graduate from medical school, but she summed it up best by saying, “I do not wish to give women a first place, still less a second one, but the most complete freedom to take their true place whatever it may be.